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Eastern Geographic Science Center

Description of Current Projects

Stream Discharge Estimation Using Remote Sensing

Principal Investigators: John W. Jones, Ph.D., U.S. Geological Survey, Eastern Geographic Science Center and David Bjerklie, Ph.D., New England Water Science Center

The Science Issue and Relevance
The contrasting character of channel morphologies and water reflectance at the confluence of the Chena and Tanana rivers, Fairbanks, AK.
Direct gaging of discharge in remote regions of the United States such as Alaska poses substantial logistical difficulties that increase costs of science and adversely affect resource monitoring and management. Because so little streamflow information is available, methods for estimating streamflow in ungaged basins are not applicable. If suitable techniques for estimating river discharge from satellite based remote sensing can be developed, the existing gage network of Alaska could be significantly augmented. This project develops and tests the potential of estimating streamflow in the Alaska frontier during open flow seasons.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue
This project requires the careful collection of in situ data in challenging areas; the application of state-of-the-art remote sensing and hydrologic modeling; and the coordination of collaborative efforts among various U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other Agency data collection, research and software development units. Stream reaches that provide a range of conditions, from relatively simple characteristics that afford rapid process testing, to more complex/dynamic reaches that represent the full suite of challenges faced in making surface water discharge measurements, have been selected for study. Most studied streams are located in Alaska; however, demonstration reaches are also located in the conterminous U.S. to allow winter season research and keep fieldwork costs to a minimum.

Airborne/satellite remote sensing technique development and testing, project management and results synthesis are conducted by the Eastern Geographic Science Center. In situ data on discharge, channel geometry, water surface slope and channel roughness are collected by various Water Science Centers. Near surface remote sensing instrument development is conducted by USGS National Research Program scientists based in Denver. The New England Water Science Center PI has the lead for discharge estimation technique development. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is developing task-specific software that is collaboratively evaluated in a subset of the project study areas. As primary users of project results, the USGS Office of Surface Water provides feedback on project outputs and considers potential operationalization of project developed techniques.

Future Steps
If results from the current study prove useful, additional study sites may be investigated.

Key Words: Streamflow, discharge, remote sensing, hydrologic modeling

Contact Information:
John W. Jones, PhD
David Bjerklie, PhD

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